Wednesday, June 24, 2009

Cookbook Review: How to Cook Everything, 10th Anniversary Edition (again)

I've reviewed this amazing cookbook before, but it's worth another mention....

This is quickly becoming the primary cookbook I use (of the 40+ I own). I still turn to Fannie Farmer for baking. I also still keep Joy of Cooking and Better Homes and Gardens on the kitchen counter, but they might be moved to a closet shelf soon! I don't copy many How to Cook Everything recipes onto this blog for 2 main reasons: I have them all on my counter and don't need them here on the blog (I use this blog for my own reference and tend to put recipes on here that are hard for me to access otherwise). The second main reason I don't put them on here is because they're wordy! That's part of the charm because Bittman walks you through every little step. But it makes them labor-intensive to record in cyberspace.

So, I thought I'd give you all some reasons why you need to go check this book out from the library or buy it yourself:

  1. Ingredients: Bittman is a minimalist and, if you were going to use only his cookbook, you'd need very few things in your pantry, use lots of fresh veggies, and be inspired to buy good meat. He's also very friendly to the "real food" idea: butter is great, lard is fine, too. Margarine and cream of -- soup won't be mentioned in the book.
  2. Method: Bittman is also not a food/cooking snob. He tells you a good way to go about it, not the hardest way, but not a short-cut way that won't work. Each recipe is doable (although some are time-consuming), and he's a realist about the amount of difference a particularly hard technique might make over an easy one. If it's really worth the difference, he'll point that out. Otherwise, he'll say "you can skip this step."
  3. Equipment: As I mentioned, he's a minimalist. Therefore, you don't need many fancy pots/pans/equipment to cook his recipes. A good cast iron skillet, a basic set of pots and pans, some mixing bowls, and you're good to go for most things.
  4. Philosophy: Everyone can cook good food every day in a reasonable amount of time. That's pretty much his philosophy, and it's true if you use his recipes!
  5. Implied philosophy: Good cooking is as much about creative use of ingredients (including leftovers) as it is about method, ingredients, and equipment. There are frequent substitutions listed, as well as suggestions for using leftover meat dishes, how to cook a variety of vegetables together, what recipes elsewhere in the book will also make a good filling for this particular sandwich, which veggies you can substitute if the original idea wasn't available (or of good/fresh quality), and so forth.
His recipes take more time than a "quick and easy" cookbook, but if you're looking for a cookbook that will give you directions on how to cook nearly everything from scratch, this is a great place to start. As I mentioned, the baking section isn't quite as good as my trusty Fannie Farmer, but everything else is wonderful. There is a great deal of ethnic emphasis in the book, too, which is both authentic-tasting and can be achieved with ingredients from your local grocery store (in most cases). If you're inspired to check this book out, here are some recipes to try:

Black Beans with Orange
Real Refried Beans (so, so, so good... I'll have to post this one)
Olive Oil Bread
Pot Roast
Beef Stew
Roast Chicken Parts with Olive Oil
Beef Daube
Meatloaf (or meatballs--same recipe)
Chicken with Ginger Sauce (variation on Lemon Poached Chicken)
All stir-fry recipes
Red Beans w/Rice

1 comment:

Jeanne Keeton said...

Sounds like a cookbook everyone should have--from theJulia Child's types to those who only cook because thy have to do so!!